You Just Tap It In. Tappity Tappity. Nukotoys and the Interaction of Real Space and Virtual Space

A while ago, I, along with some other Bay Area (and beyond) parent and tech bloggers, went to meet with the NukoToys team in San Francisco. We were brought in as consultants for the new game they were developing, Monsterology. How do kids interact with technology? What are the worries parents have about exposing their kids to games, technology, and online socializing? How can having an active parent community online help or hinder the acceptance of the game? These were some of the questions the NukoToys team had, and the having of them inspired this invitation to bloggers.

After meeting with them, talking with them for hours, exploring the game, learning about the technology, and hearing about the plans for further games (either in development or in hopes and dreams), I had no reservations at all about joining the NukoToys “Parents at Play” team.

The Monsterology game is based on the series of “-ology” books that have been out for a while now: Wizardology, Dragonology, Monsterology, etc….These books are incredibly detailed encyclopedias of mythology and fantasy, with all sorts of little extras (pop outs, flips-ups, journals…they’re intense) and beautiful illustrations.

Adrian, back when I first learned about the books and games. He was so little!

So, NukoToys has taken these books and designed a whole bunch of trading cards with various Monsters and Traps (to catch the monsters) to sell in stores. The cards are full of information themselves, and beautiful to look at.

For some people, that might be enough all on its own: “Hey, let’s to a Pokemon-style thing and sell trading cards, but base them on the Ology books.” Fine. And, in fact, one of the advisors for NukoToys is Peter Adkinson, the man behind Pokemon’s world domination and Magic: The Gathering. The cards are good at being what trading cards are for.

There is a game you can play just with the trading cards. Erin tried it out an event in the Fall.

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But NukoToys isn’t just making trading card games: They’re making mobile games, something you can play on an iPad, iPod, or iPhone.

First, “Monsterology”:

http://youtu.be/Lyrzi9dHhf8

The game is a turn-based fantasy strategy game that has players capturing towers, out-maneuvering their opponent’s monsters to capture control points, towers, treasure chests. There are ten individual maps to play on, with graphics inspired by the books all linked from a central overmap that you play through in order to beat the game.

Fine. So it’s a turn-based strategy game that looks beautiful (and the game play itself is pretty awesome, but I am someone who plays games from 1993 on a laptop from 2006, so I may not be the best judge) and is based on the same books as the trading cards, featuring Monsters and Traps from the same line. What is different about it?

NukoToys has embedded the trading cards with chips that allow them to be tapped into the game. I mean that literally. You get a trading card, you tap your iPad, iPod, or iPhone, and that tells the game that you own that Monster or Trap, and inserts it into the game, into your arsenal/stable/collection.  This was jaw-dropping for me: The interaction of virtual and physical, the potential to expand into areas that will not just enhance the virtual world with physical objects, but also the physical world with virtual objects, blew my mind. I’m not even doing justice to the impact seeing this thing had on me. Since I first saw this demonstrated, there have been other games released that also take advantage of interactivity between real and virtual objects, but Nukotoys was the first I had ever seen.

Trading-wise, when you give the card to a friend, he gets the virtual item as well, so you are trading actually and virtually. You can buy packs of cards, or you can buy virtual cards in the game.

The team at NukoToys was thinking the target age range for this would be something like 9-13. I looked at this game and immediately thought “Oh my god, I’m about to spend a crapton of money on trading cards so I can play this.”

What I was utterly floored by was that Doug and Rodger (co-founders of NukoToys with some unbelievable experience) wanted to offer Monsterology, the game, for free. They want everyone to have the app on their iPad, obviously, and that will make the trading cards or in-game purchases the only cost. And they include a number of virtual cards with the app itself, so no one would ever need to spend money at all in order to play the game. The hope, of course, is that people will want to keep upgrading and collecting and trading, but I urged them both repeatedly to charge for the game itself. $0.99? Would you spent that much on a game with this much content and design behind it? I would. I’ve spent way more money on games that weren’t half as good (old-time PC gamer here, folks).

And I haven’t even mentioned the app they’ve developed for Animal Planet called Wildlands. It was this one, even more than the Monsterology game, that I thought I could see myself incorporating not just into my life, but my kids’ lives, even as young as they are (6 and 4). It was stunning, even in the bare-bones alpha version we caught a glimpse of. It’s even better now in its release.

http://youtu.be/yvKE_jtVxsA

You guide different animals (lions, warthogs, birds, hyenas…) through different terrain, learning about them, hunting with them, chasing other animals around, racing, even controlling the weather (if you get special weather cards). You can watch videos and read about the different animals or phenomena, all inspired by Animal Planet. You unlock different achievements in the Gamecenter by finishing different quests, and you unlock different types of terrain by acquiring new cards. The movement is not just touch-based, but also positioning-based: holding the device in a certain way will cause the animal to move differently (running, walking, standing still, turning). This is the game my young kids liked the best. It doesn’t hurt that you can “pet” the animals.

As you ponder all of this, of course you must remind yourself to take my words with a grain of “he has a material connection to NukoToys” grain of salt, because I totally do. I would not have spent all day doing consulting work with a bunch of other bloggers  for free, no matter who was leading the discussion (*cough* Karen Gruenberg, the former head of all-things Sesame Street *cough*). But the day was amazing, the people were amazing, the apps were amazing…it made me think I’m in the wrong line of work and the right line of work all at the same time. The wrong one, since I don’t get to participate in that level of discussion every day; the right one, since I got to participate in it at all.

The Best Camera Is the One You Have With You

(This is a sponsored post for the LG Nitro™ HD smartphone. I like the phone, but you should know I’ve been compensated for my words http://cmp.ly/3/kqVumG)

I’m wandering around Disneyland, and the camera I happen to have with me is a phone. Normally, this would bum me out, since the phone I usually carry is a rhymes-with-ack-very, and while it’s fine as smartphones go, as a camera and video player it is…not the best. I usually bring a dedicated point-and-shoot camera with me to take pictures and record video, but now that I’m phasing the roomy Dad Jeans out of my wardrobe because of a fairly successful slimming-down regimen, I don’t have the cargo space for extra devices.

Enter the LG NitroTM HD (http://www.nitrobylg.com), a super-slim Android-powered 4G smartphone that has a crazy widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio true HD display, and a really nice camera capable of capturing full 1080pm HD photos and videos. I was very lucky to receive one from LG the day before we left for our trip, and I’ve been making good use of it.

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I want to be able to carry one device that is worth using as a phone, still camera, and video camera. We go to Disneyland a lot, and I’m always trying to snap pictures that are worth keeping, worth printing, and worth sharing. I also want to be able to shoot good-looking video without dedicating a bag just to camera equipment. I never bring my expensive handicam with me on trips because of the bulk, and I’ve either missed capturing special moments on video, or settled for inferior video recordings. With the LG NitroTM HD I don’t have to settle now.

Switch on the 1080p HD setting on YouTube to get the full effect of the recording.

 

What makes the LG NitroTM HD display so amazing?

  1. Real RGB stripe pixels for amazingly accurate color
  2. 329 pixels per inch for sharper, crisper images
  3. 16:9 aspect ratio for widescreen entertainment
  4. Efficient display for optimal power consumption
  5. Up to 7 hours of talk time

Over the last five days at the park, the LG NitroTM HD has taken nice pictures and video, and displayed them for my immediate review on a screen that makes mistakes and successes obvious right away (instead of having to wait until the pictures are on a bigger laptop screen).

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Most importantly, I’ve been able to use it as a smartphone, camera, or video recorder throughout the day for anywhere between 8 and 11 hours. Those are pretty full days at Disneyland, and we were busy.

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We’d have been lost without the Nitro.

And a good navigator.

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(What makes LG Nitro’s True HD IPS Display so amazing? 16:9 Aspect ratio for widescreen entertainment, sharper, crisper images, amazingly accurate colors and more. Exclusively available on AT&T’s 4G LTE network. Find out more at www.NitrobyLG.com.)

Even Your Honor Student Gets Wasted

Something happened between fifteen and sixteen. My friends and I, often gathering to play Dungeons & Dragons and play terrible songs in our “band”, graduated from buying hot gingerale at the A & P and challenging each other to chug entire bottles of the eye-watering sodas, to sneaking sips and shots from the liquor cabinet.

It was only a little, at first. We’d raid the liquor from the pantry and pass a bottle around, either drinking it straight or mixing it with a soda from the fridge. Our parents weren’t around, or we made certain they weren’t around by heading back to a house during work hours, and we made huge dents in the alcohol supply in the house. We started to get paranoid about getting caught; never in a face-to-face confrontation, since we had no sense at all that people can smell alcohol on your breath. But we were worried someone would notice the bottles were noticeably emptier. So we would make sure to check the level of the bottles before we drank anything, then we’d add a little water to make sure we’d pass the eyeball test.

Some of those bottles must have been mostly water after a while.

We weren’t “troubled” kids. We were nerds, band geeks, athletes, drama kids. Two of us were on the student council when we graduated from high school. Several of us had scholarships to go to university. We were academic award-winners, and fully invested in extra-curricular, after-school activities. We weren’t burnouts; we weren’t dropouts; we weren’t examples of failure to our teachers or parents. At the time, I was the only smoker in that group; we weren’t rebels or drug-abusers. But we were sneaking booze when no parents were around.

It wasn’t just us, of course, and it wasn’t just during those quiet afternoons when no parents were home. High school parties presented obscenely casual opportunities to drink a little or a lot. Having access to alcohol made you interesting, even if being under its influence made you stupid, so there were social incentives to making sure you didn’t show up to a party as a beer-beggar.

We were lucky, or cautious, or had fewer opportunities, or something: No one I knew ever died in a drunk driving accident. This may have had everything to do with the pedestrian nature of our town, and nothing to do with us. It definitely had nothing to do with our parents: We were certain we’d never be caught. It was that certainty, that adolescent sureness, that kept us going.

What if we’d been less sure?

The video is a little alarmist, and I cringe when I think about the dystopian elements inherent in a society of remote monitors. But if my parents had had a rule that, say, I needed to check in with them via this device at midnight when I was going out…well, who knows?

That being said, teenagers are, as I recall, very sneaky, clever little buggers. Whatever the rules are, teens are built to push them, to break them, to end-run them. Having technology like Soberlink available in the early 90’s may have merely changed the way my friends and I found ways to experiment with alcohol. Maybe none of us would have puked in a toilet at a party, but maybe those afternoons, while we were all being latch-key kids alone with the liquor cabinet, would have been more frequent.

Is this a completely unreasonable invasion of privacy for teens? Or is it a great tool for parents who suspect something is going on? Is it only good in extreme cases? Or should it become as routine as brushing teeth? How important is preventing underage drinking to you? Would this work? Would it be worth it?

(This post has been sponsored by Soberlink. They, presumably, hope you think the technology is interesting enough to check out, to talk about, to think about, and to introduce into your lives. I hope you think “Even my honor student might be getting wasted. What should I do about that?”)